“HEY, HEY!” I was shouting at my son. “Help that little girl!” The mighty Columbia River was silently culling it’s prey.
Water has always had a piece of my soul. The first time I found myself floundering was in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Head tipped back and toes barely touching the bottom as the next kid went down the slide, swam past me, and then another. Finally, gasping and knowing that I’d had a close one, my hands grasp the rough concrete edge of the pool.
The reservoir North of Casper also made several passes at me. Each time, trembling from exertion, wanting to cry, I promised myself not to go so far next time. Before I turned twelve, 2 of my friends met the Grim Reaper in that very water.
Turtle Creek reservoir in Kansas wanted young meat for the larger fish to nibble on in the depths under the frozen surface of winter and it drew me seductively past my abilities. Again, I made it passed death’s grasp.
Strangely and in my own mind I wondered how no one ever seemed to notice, no one seemed to care. Every single time was a little boy’s silent battle for life. Each close call caused a deep internal sobbing, less now from proximity to death and more that no one seemed to care. As a young child I became comfortably close to death in my casual thoughts. Dreams of death from falling was as common as any child but drowning haunted my dreams. Pictures of water, no mater how peaceful, gave fuel to a mind determined to slip thoughts of a slowly sinking victim giving their soul to Davey Jones.
It is the silence that haunted me the most. Was I wanting to die? Was I too lazy to call out? My dreams of drowning were so common that eventually I found myself enjoying the call. Drowning… what a nice way to die.
Later in life while canoeing I’d find myself half halfheartedly enjoying the capsize, wondering if this was my final ride. Smiling to myself sitting on the shore I’d talk quietly to the river. “Not this time my friend.”
Enter the Reader’s Digest. They had an article about drowning and how the drowning person falls silent, conserving energy and drowns passively among the other swimmers rather than the thrashing and screaming seen in movies. Yup, it’s just like that I thought. With pictures and description, the Reader’s Digest laid the most private of my near drowning experiences convincingly bare to the reader.
Some years later I was walking with the family along the river where families were splashing in the water and lounging on the grassy slope designed by U.S. Corp of Engineers. I walked out onto the dock with my wife and the dog and was coaxing the dog to jump off the dock to retrieve a stick.
Thank God for the Reader’s Digest! My eye spotted and brought my attention to the girl. I paused for a few seconds to confirm. I felt her posture, quiet then loud as the waves from passing boats covered her ears then off. “HEY, HEY!! Help her! I pointed directly at the girl. While my son was trying to comprehend my yelling, her dad lunged into the water and grabbed her up, pulling her out.
“What happened” he was asking. She collapsed crying into his arms and began the panic-relief sobbing that follows near death from drowning.
She was slowly and torturously drowning surrounded by friends and family. I wonder if she occasionally questions that no one seemed to care, why didn’t anyone notice? Well, maybe not. Someone did notice.
We walked on, her memory burned into my mind. I’ve had no drowning dreams since.